March is both Irish-American Heritage Month and Women's History Month. So it seems a good time for a story about an Irish woman. In this post, we take a look at the life of Mary King Ward of Co. Offaly.
From the tiniest creatures to the far reaches of the universe, Mary King Ward’s scientific curiosity led her to explore and document what she discovered through both the microscope and the telescope. Despite her short lifespan and the limited opportunities available to women in the 1800s, she accomplished some remarkable things.
Born in County Offaly in 1827 to an Anglo-Irish family, Mary soon caught her relatives’ zeal for science. At the tender age of three she was already collecting and examining insects and butterflies. Since girls were not sent to school in those days, Mary and her sisters were educated at home by a governess and encouraged by their parents to explore scientific subjects.
By the time she was 18, Mary was adept at illustrating with her drawing and painting skills the tiniest details of the creatures she studied. When the eminent British astronomer James South visited her parents, he saw her staring through a magnifying glass to perfect her sketches. So South suggested to Mary’s father that he give her a microscope. He did that, and Mary continued to expand her collection of illustrations. She contributed several drawings to books published by Sir David Brewster, the Scottish academic who among many other accomplishments invented the kaleidoscope.
In 1854, when Mary was 27, she married Henry Ward of Castle Ward in County Down. Over the next 13 years she bore eight children and continued to study, write and draw.
In 1857 no publishers would consider a scientific book written by a woman. So Mary self-published her first book on microscopy at a local print shop. All 250 copies of Sketches with the Microscope sold in a few weeks. The next year a London publisher accepted the book and published it under the title The World of Wonders as Revealed by the Microscope. It sold so well that it was reprinted eight times between 1858 and 1880.
Mary’s cousin William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, had been working on building what would become until 1917 the largest telescope in the world. With a six-foot mirror, it was called the Leviathan of Birr Castle. From the world of the very small, Mary expanded her studies to the vast universe making illustrations of the telescope itself and of what she saw in it. Inspired by this new subject, she wrote and published Telescope Teachings in 1859.
When plans to restore the historic telescope began in the 1990s, Mary’s drawings were instrumental because the original plans had been lost. You can still see the restored telescope at Birr Castle today.
Tragically, Mary was to gain another distinction on August 31, 1869. While riding on a steam-powered car designed and built by her cousins from Birr Castle, she was thrown under its wheels when the car turned a corner. She was the first person in the world killed by an automobile. She was only 42 and left behind her eight young children.
You may also like to read about Lilian Bland, an early Irish aviator.
On August 6, 1777, the day General Nicholas Herkimer took a bullet in his knee at the Battle of Oriskany, a little boy in Co. Wexford, in the southern part of Ireland, had just celebrated his third birthday in style at his family’s estate near Enniscorthy. Of course, young John C. Devereux knew nothing of the revolution raging in a land across the ocean. He couldn’t have foreseen the rebellion that would drive him from his home nor the effect he would have on that far away valley Herkimer fought to set free.
Twenty years later, Devereux stepped on to a dock in New York, forced to flee Ireland after his activities on behalf of the United Irishmen were discovered. Only a year later, during the Rebellion of 1798, his family, who stayed to finish the fight, lost all their wealth and even the life of one son, James, at the Battle of Vinegar Hill.
But safe in the States, teaching dancing for a living, John made his way from New York through New England to Utica in 1802. There he traded his minuets for merchandise and succeeded beyond his dreams. The supply and demand of selling dry goods and groceries in a booming frontier city, together with his industrious habits, polished manners, and kind generosity brought him $100,000 a year.
His surviving brothers joined him in this new nation and in 1814 Nicholas, the youngest, became John’s business partner. Together they built the Devereux Block on the west side of Bagg’s Square in downtown Utica, a grand five-story building with stores on the first floor and offices above. It stood until 1990 when it was razed after a fire.
Their neighbors admired their success and asked them for sage advice regarding money. At the time, Utica had no bank but the Devereuxs had a strongbox at the store which they offered as a safe place to keep the coins of Uticans. They kept careful accounts and paid interest to depositors. Then in 1839 they officially formed the Savings Bank of Utica. John served as its first president. And the strongbox survives in the gold dome bank's lobby on Genesee Street to this day.
There were other firsts too. John donated the funds to build the first Roman Catholic Church west of Albany - Old St. John’s, still at Bleecker and John Streets today. And he established Utica’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1824, still celebrated on Genesee Street every March. And in 1840, John C. Devereux became the first mayor of Utica elected by the citizens. Up to then, Utica’s mayors had been appointed by the city council.
On December 11, 1848, John finished his generous and productive life in the city he served so well. Moses M. Bagg later wrote of him, “...a very prince among his fellows was John C. Devereux whose honourable career and many deeds of charity left behind him a memory as verdant as that of the green isle whence he came."
The city that is Rome, NY, today was nothing but an abandoned fort, a swamp, and a lot of potential when Irish-born Dominick Lynch mapped out his vision for the community in 1796. Over the next 29 years he built up a thriving town he called Lynchville, criss-crossed by streets he named after his friends and family. Those familiar street names include, James, Jasper, Louisa, Ann, John, and Henry (after some of his 13 children), Dominick and Lynch (after himself), and George and Washington (after his friend the Father of our Country). Lynch had the honor of attending George Washington’s inaugural ball in 1789 having become acquainted with him when they were neighbors in New York City.
In traditional Irish music, a “set” is a group of three tunes each played three times. If you go to any of our sessions, you’ll hear lots of sets. Playing on this theme last year, I put together a “set” of ideas that would add a bit of Irish to your holiday celebrations and it was a big hit. To see last year’s ideas click here. And now for this year’s Irish Christmas Set:
Irish Christmas Recipes
Delicious aromas from the kitchen are part of everyone’s festivities, so let’s start with a “tune” of three recipes. (Click the titles on each recipe below to go to the complete directions.)
For adventurous cooks willing to make mincemeat from scratch, here’s the recipe straight from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe House website. It’s interesting to see what ingredients are in it. But if it’s too daunting to make your own, you can buy it in jars at most grocery stores and from Food Ireland.
Festive Brussels Sprouts
Americans tend to shun Brussels sprouts any time of year, but done well, they can be delicious. And they are very commonly found on an Irish table at Christmas time. Here’s a recipe that could make this particular vegetable a new holiday favorite for you.
Homemade Irish Cream Liqueur
Bailey’s Irish Cream alone or over ice cream makes an easy dessert. You can buy a bottle from your local liquor store or make your own a bit less expensively with this recipe.
Speaking of dessert, in last year’s Christmas post I mentioned Irish Plum Pudding. And this year I can report to you that I bought one and served it flambé. You can see photos of that adventure here.
Irish Christmas Gifts
For our second "tune," let’s go gift shopping. What can you wrap up for your Hibernophile friend who has everything? Here are three ideas.
Irish History Podcast Pins
These badges from the Irish History Podcast celebrate people who played significant roles in the story of Ireland’s past. Purchasing them also helps support a dedicated Irishman’s extremely well-researched and interesting podcast.
Inis Energy of the Sea has become my favorite perfume this year. Based in Co. Wicklow, this small company not only makes a refreshing scent, but also sponsors whale and dolphin conservation programs. It’s available at many local shops, so you can also support local businesses. There’s a store locator on their website.
Lennon's Irish Shop
Lennon's of Schenectady offers a myriad of Celtic gift items in their shop and extensive online store. As longtime vendors at the Great American Irish Festival, they generously donated items for drawings and prizes. Last summer they supplied the prize for our trivia contest.
And as a bonus, a little shameless self-promotion: Craobh Dugan’s music on CDs and digital downloads would make a nice gift. You can buy our Irish and the Erie CD from CD Baby. Or you can buy them directly from Craobh Dugan at our sessions. CDs are $15 (only $10 for Craobh Dugan members) and digital download cards are $10.
Irish Christmas Music
And finally, our third "tune" actually involves music. Here are three selections to add to your holiday playlists. Click the titles to acquire them through Amazon.com, or in the case of the last one, through CD Baby. You may also be able to find the albums, or tunes from them, on your favorite music app like Spotify or iTunes.
The Night Before a Celtic Christmas
Famed tin whistle player Mary Bergin and her band known as Dordán recorded this truly traditional mix of poetry, song, and traditional music for Christmas in 1998.
The Frost is All Over
Irish Central called this album by Kate Rusby “traditional and innovative, historical and modern, and one of a kind.” Here's a sample to listen to:
A Celtic Christmas
Celtic and Irish Music Podcast host Marc Gunn put this compilation album together. Seems like you can’t beat a playlist assembled by an expert like Marc. You can also subscribe to his Christmas music podcast on your favorite podcast app.
I hope you found something in this set of three threes that you can blend into your holiday celebration this year. If this article has made you think of some of your own special finds, please share them in the comments and we’ll include them in our Christmas set next year.
If you’re planning a traditional Irish Christmas menu, there’s one item you can’t do without: the Christmas pudding. And there are two ways to acquire one. You can make it from scratch by assembling 26 ingredients six to eight weeks before Christmas, steaming it for several hours, and letting it cure for weeks. Or you can order one from Food Ireland. Maybe some year, I’ll try the former, with this recipe from the Irish American Mom blog. But last year, and as I’m planning to do this year, I ordered a Mileeven Luxury Irish Christmas Pudding.
Based in Co. Kilkenny, Mileeven is a small honey business run by Eilis Gough and her daughter Sarah. The pudding they make is deliciously rich, dense, and sweet, filled with cherries and almonds, Irish stout and whiskey.
When I found the recipe for Christmas pudding, I also spotted directions for setting the puddling aflame. So I tried it with my purchased pudding. It worked and it was fun!
Here are my photos of the adventure.
One of the first Irishmen to arrive in the Mohawk Valley would go on to become one of the richest and most powerful men in colonial America. He was Sir William Johnson. Born in Co. Meath, he traveled to New York in 1737 at the age of 22. His uncle Peter Warren had hired him to lead a band of 12 Irish families to establish a community on his land near present-day Warrensburgh. Quickly Johnson began to build his fortune through the fur trade and land acquisition. In 1755 Johnson distinguished himself at the Battle of Lake George, which earned him the title of Baronet from King George II of England. (This title has passed down to his descendants to this day. The current Baronet of New York lives in London.)
But more than his growing wealth or his title, it was his extraordinary ability to communicate with the Native Americans that made him a legend of colonial New York. He learned to speak the Mohawk language, had eight children with his Mohawk wife, and was given a name of honor by the Mohawks - “Warraghiyagey” - which in English means, "a man who undertakes great things".
Johnson Hall, his home that still stands in present-day Johnstown, NY, was a place known for generous hospitality with plenty of music and dancing, fine food and drink, a menagerie of pets including dogs, birds, and monkeys, and rooms to accommodate a constant stream of guests.
Johnson died from a stroke while speaking at an Indian conference at his home on July 11, 1774. He left an estate of 170,000 acres of land. Just two years later, his heir, Sir John Johnson, lost it all when American patriots seized it during the Revolutionary War. The marks are still visible on the stairway railing where patriot militia members pounded their rifle butts on the day they took the house.
Photos taken by Sue Romero at Johnson Hall State Historic Site.
Samhain (pronounced sow-in, as in rhymes with “cow in”) is an ancient Celtic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It takes place on October 31 and is the source of many of our Halloween traditions.
Why are ghosts a typical symbol of Halloween? That's because the ancient Celts believed that the division between the realms of the living and the dead was thinnest at Samhain, which would allow the souls of the dead to pass through. Our ancestors built bonfires and offered food to honor their dead loved ones during this festival. They also dressed up in animal skins to chase harmful spirits away. Maybe this is why ghosts found their way into many Irish, Scottish, and English folk songs, which then crossed the Atlantic and inspired American versions.
She Moved Through the Fair
lyrics by Padraic Collum
My young love said to me, "My mother won't mind
And my father won't slight you for your lack of kind"
And she stepped away from me and this she did say:
It will not be long, love, till our wedding day"
As she stepped away from me and she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her move here and move there
And then she turned homeward with one star awake
Like the swan in the evening moves over the lake
The people were saying, no two e'er were wed
But one had a sorrow that never was said
And I smiled as she passed with her goods and her gear,
And that was the last that I saw of my dear.
Last night she came to me, my dead love came in
So softly she came that her feet made no din
As she laid her hand on me and this she did say
"It will not be long, love, 'til our wedding day"
The Unquiet Grave (sometimes called Cold Blows the Wind)
Cold blows the wind to my true love and gently drops the rain
I only had but one true love and in greenwood she lies slain
I'll do as much for my true love as any young man may
I'll sit and mourn along her grave for a twelve-month and a day
When the twelve months and one day was past the ghost began to speak:
"Why sit thou'st here along my grave and will not let me sleep?"
"There's one thing that I want sweetheart, there's one thing that I crave
And that is a kiss from your lily white lips then I'll go from your grave"
"My lips they are as cold as clay my breath smells earthy strong
And if you kiss my cold clay lips your days they won't be long
Go fetch me water from the desert and blood from out of stone
Go fetch me milk from a fair maid's breast that a young man never had known"
'Twas down in Cupid's Garden where you and I would walk
The finest flower that ever I saw is withered to a stalk
The stalk is withered and dry sweetheart the flower will ne'er return
And since I lost my one true love what can I do but mourn?
"When shall we meet again sweetheart? When shall we meet again?"
"Ere the oaken leaves that fall from the trees are green and spring up again"
This lovely resort is the Cape Cod Irish Village in South Yarmouth, MA, and it's the locale of the first prize in Craobh Dugan's fundraising raffle this year. The lucky winner will get to bring a friend and spend October 18-19 enjoying the popular "Get Up Jack" band weekend there along with two breakfasts and a five course dinner.
But if you don't win the grand prize, there are three more that could make you pretty happy too.
Second prize is this genuine 10-inch Waterford Normandy crystal bowl. Valued at $350, it would be a beautiful centerpiece on a holiday table.
Third prize is a $100 gift card to spend on food and drinks at the newly opened Five Points Public House on Columbia Street in Utica.
And fourth prize is this handpainted rustic wooden Irish flag.
We're only selling 1000 tickets for this raffle at just $5 each. The drawing will be held at our September 17th session at Stockdale's Pub in Oriskany. You don't have to be present to win, but it would be fun if you were. To get your tickets, send us an email at UticaIrish@gmail.com. We'll also have tickets available at the Makem & Clancy Duo concert at Five Points Pub on Sept. 12. All the proceeds will help us bring a wide variety of traditional Irish arts performers and teachers to the Utica-Rome area. As always, we are grateful for your support!
On March 19, 2020, fans of Irish music in the Utica, NY, vicinity will have a chance to connect with history and culture in a personal way. On that evening at 7:00pm, Rory Makem will perform at Five Points Public House on Columbia Street in Utica. He is the son of the legendary Tommy Makem. And he sings many of the songs he learned from his dad, but he's developed his inherited talents to a high degree himself too. Many of us have heard of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, but have you ever looked into the details of their story? It's a quite a tale and it all starts with two Irish brothers deciding to seek their fortunes in New York City.
Paddy and Tom Clancy didn’t mean to start a worldwide movement when they arrived in New York City in 1951. They just wanted to be actors. And so they were, landing some roles on and off Broadway and on television. Creative and ambitious, they even started their own company called Trio Productions and rented a theater to produce Irish plays. But that’s an expensive endeavor and they needed to raise some money. What could they do?
How about sing the old songs they learned as kids back in County Tipperary? They gathered some friends and called it the Swapping Song Fair and soon musicians well-known in the American Folk Revival - Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Jean Ritchie - were joining in.
Sometime in 1955, the Clancys met folk music collector Diane Hamilton in New York, and when they heard she planned to travel to Ireland to record rare Irish songs, they recommended she stop by their parents’ house in Carrick-on-Suir. She did, and there she recorded songs sung by several members of the Clancy family including the youngest brother Liam. Her next stop would be the home of Sarah Makem in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, and she invited Liam to join her on the trip. That’s where Liam met Sarah’s son Tommy, which started a lifelong and very productive friendship.
By 1956, Liam and Tommy were also in New York looking for acting jobs and singing with the older Clancys on the side. Later that year Paddy, Tom, and Liam Clancy, along with Tommy Makem recorded their first album together to help launch Paddy’s newly formed company, Tradition Records. It was a collection of Irish rebel songs called The Rising of the Moon. Still focused on their acting careers, they were surprised when the record found local success and they were invited to more and more singing gigs.
In 1959, they recorded their second album, this one drinking songs called Come Fill Your Glass With Us. By this time Liam had honed his guitar skills and Tommy had added his tin whistle and uilleann pipes. This album was a hit and launched them into bigger performances in New York, Boston, and Chicago, but still their group had no real name. They tossed around several ideas but couldn’t agree. Finally a nightclub owner who needed to put something on the marquee decided to just call them The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.
Meanwhile back home in Tipperary, Mrs. Clancy read an article about the freezing wind, snow, and icy conditions in New York and sent the boys cozy Aran sweaters. They gratefully bundled up in them one cold night before going out to a gig in New York. When he saw the sweaters, their manager went wild. That was just the look he was looking for! And that is why they wore those same sweaters to their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on March 12, 1961, before an audience of 40 million viewers.
After that night, the musical career of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem (as well as Aran sweater sales) really took off. Soon they had a five-year contract with Columbia Records, a $100,000 advance, and a new record called A Spontaneous Performance Recording, complete with Pete Seeger on banjo. This album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording in 1962. The singing Irishmen could be heard on major radio and television talk-shows and even played an acclaimed concert at Carnegie Hall. In 1962 their touring went international including Ireland, England, Canada and Australia. And they played for President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Their fame and success endured throughout the 1960s partly because their timing fit in perfectly with the American Folk Music Revival, a trend that had started in the 1930s and ‘40s with artists like Pete Seeger and Woody Gutherie and later went on to include performers like Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan.
Dylan, who spent a lot of time with the Clancys in New York in the early ‘60s, said, “Irish music has always been a great part of my life because I used to hang out with the Clancy Brothers. They influenced me tremendously."
And all the great bands we love to hear at Irish festivals today have The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem to thank for the popularity of the genre. Irish author Frank McCourt wrote in 1999, "They were the first. Before them there were dance bands and show bands and céilidhe bands...but not since John McCormack had Irish singers captured international attention like the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. They opened the gates to the likes of the Dubliners and the Wolfe Tones and every Irish group thereafter."
Tommy Makem left the group in 1969 to pursue a solo career and the Clancy brothers went on to perform and record albums in various combinations of family members and friends. Later in the mid-70s, Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem teamed up and performed together for 13 years. And now their sons keep the music going into the second generation, with Finbarr Clancy (Bobby’s son) a member of The High Kings, and Dónal Clancy (Liam’s son) a former member of Danú and Solás, and Rory Makem (Tommy Makem’s son) a solo performer who often teams up with Dónal Clancy too.
All this history behind Rory Makem makes his upcoming concert at Five Points Public House in Utica a significant opportunity. It takes place March 19th at 7:00pm with doors opening at 6:00pm, and you can get your tickets right here.
Rory played at Five Points Public House with Dónal Clancy last fall and I have to tell you, he's an amazing performer and storyteller on top of being a great musician. Get your tickets today. You won't be disappointed. Here's a sample of his music:
The Great American Irish Festival is always a magnificent celebration of culture, music, community, and friendship. And this year was just as epic as ever. Held July 26-28 at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds in Frankfort, NY, it featured 22 bands, a building full of high quality vendors, food and drink galore, heavy games, a 5K race, Irish step dancers, dogs of Ireland, highland pipe bands - and a building full of cultural exhibits and activities which was organized by Craobh Dugan members this year.
In this post you'll get a taste of the action, with lots of photos and videos.
Several members of our group researched and created display boards for the mini-musem exhibit, covering topics like Irish poets, influential local immigrants from Ireland, Gaelic sports, the Irish workers on the Erie Canal, noble Irish women, and political cartoons that showed some of the fierce prejudice that Irish people had to overcome in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Patty Foley created a display about Irish knitting stitches and demonstrated them to festival visitors.
Mike Carroll organized some of his Little Falls Theater friends to perform a traditional medieval mummers' play several times throughout the festival. Naming themselves Mummers Along the Mohawk, they created their costumes and recited their rhyming lines with great theatrical zeal, surprising and amazing all who saw them.
Cindy Wood spoke to festival-goers interested in their Irish ancestry, sharing ideas for genealogical research.
Albany's Two Rivers Gaelic League translated our names into Irish so we could wear them proudly on our own name tags.
Connie Pratt, owner of Art and Vine in Utica, led a Paint and Sip session where more than 20 people created lovely pieces of art. One young girl even used her painting as a place to gather autographs from many of the musicians.
The open session on Saturday sounded amazing with several professional musicians playing with us this year. With just a simple, "Would you like to join us?" these very busy artists were more than happy to play music with their local fans. Playing in the session were: Rose Baldino of House of Hamill, The Byrne Brothers, and Arise and Go.
Have a listen to this small sample:
We also tried another kind of session, this one just for drums. Tapping into a little experience with drum circles, Sue Romero led a bodhrán drum circle for about a dozen people. They brought their bodhráns, djembes, and congas and learned about the health benefits of drumming, drum circle rhythms and Irish beats.
Jim O'Rourke contributed many things to our festival efforts this year, including this demonstration of how a thatch roof works.
A few flash mobs surprised and delighted shoppers in the vendor building thanks to the guidance of Jim O'Rourke and the teachers of Butler-Sheehan Academy of Irish Dance and the Johnston School of Irish Dance. Here's a video of the Johnston School's flash mob on Sunday.
Limerick native Deirdre McCarthy with her husband Jim gave a musical and storytelling performance. And then Deirdre taught us some fun sean-nos dance steps.
The Cultural Building stage was a busy place. Pictured here, The Mighty Craic performs. Later in the festival Gerry Dixon and Donal O'Shaughnessy also played music and told entertaining stories, and Craobh Dugan performed our Irish and the Erie musical-historical program.
We also performed tunes and songs on the Traditional Stage on Sunday.
This is a long list of highlights, but there were even more! We had five entries to the photo contest, which was won by Terry Ann DeLude from Utica. Her black and white photo, number 2 in the photo below, received more than 50 votes.
And 26 people bravely attempted our challenging trivia quiz. Only one person, Carl Finnerty who traveled from Pennsylvania for the festival, answered all the questions correctly and won the Irish blessing throw donated by Lennon's Irish Shop.
All told, it was a fun and fulfilling weekend made possible only by the collaboration and hard work of our dedicated volunteers and the many more volunteers who make the Great American Irish Festival happen, now for the 16th year. Thanks a million to everyone who pitched in planning, creating, performing, presenting, selling raffle tickets, taking photos and videos, setting up, and cleaning up! It was a weekend where memories were made for us and for hundreds of people who attended.
Imagine you're a local musician who plays for fun and friendship around your hometown area. Now imagine you're invited to bring your instrument and your friends to the newest most beautiful pub in town and play with some of the finest bands in your favorite musical genre. You have CDs by these bands. You've seen them in viral videos and in concert. And now you get to sit down right next to them and make music together.
It seemed like a dream, but it was real for the members of Craobh Dugan on July 25, 2019. It was the eve of the Great American Irish Festival, and the members of The Colin Farrell Band, The Byrne Brothers, and We Banjo 3, arrived at Five Points Public House for an open session and graciously played many of our favorite tunes with us, even though they had traveled long distances that day.
These musicians were fun, friendly, and down-to-earth. They never showed off, but still we were dazzled by their excellent skills. And to experience this magical musical moment in the elegant surroundings of Five Points Public House was the icing on the cake.
That was an evening we won't ever forget. Here's a small video sample.
The Great American Irish Festival is heading into its 16th year at the end of July and it’s shaping up to be one of the best ones yet. There’s something to do, see, and listen to around every corner, but in this article I’ll focus on the Cultural Building, because for the first time ever, Craobh Dugan is in charge of organizing it.
We gathered a creative and ambitious bunch last winter and we’ve been meeting, emailing, and making things ever since. Here are some of the fun and fascinating things you’ll find in the Cultural Building this year:
The mini museum display boards will return, but even bigger and better this year. We’ve added interesting research about Gaelic sports, Irish poets, Irish tunes and instruments, and Irish people in Mohawk Valley history to the popular topics from last year - notable Irish women, Irish words in the English language, and political cartoons of the 18th and 19th centuries showing the cruel racist attitudes toward the Irish at that time.
A trivia quiz with a prize for the winner.
A photo contest where you can vote for your favorites with a $100 prize for the winner. And if you have a photo to enter, click this link to see the rules and registration form. The deadline is July 22.
A knitting display and hands-on demonstration of Aran and other Irish stitches.
Find out how to say and write your name in the Irish language and wear it proudly on your own name tag, presented by Two Rivers Gaelic League from Albany.
Professional genealogist Cindy Wood will give a talk and also be available for 30-minute appointments to help you with individual genealogical research.
Learn useful words and phrases in Irish at the Pop-up Gaeltacht.
Programs on the Schedule
Experience a bodhrán drum circle (on Friday evening). Drum circles have become a popular way to relax and relieve stress and lots of people have bodhráns as souvenirs from their trips to Ireland. Why not put the two together and create an Irish drum circle? Bring your bodhrán and tipper (or your djembe, cajon, or congas if you like) and join in this special session just for drummers. We’ll talk about the benefits of drumming in general and a little about the bodhrán. Then we’ll enjoy a relaxing bodhrán beat. We’ll have a few spare drums if you need one.
Create your own Celtic masterpiece at the Sip and Paint with Art & Vine (on Saturday afternoon). All art supplies and a drink are included with your $25 ticket. Find out more here.
We’ll be performing our Irish and the Erie program about the history of the Irish workers on the Erie Canal with songs and music. Find out more about this project here.
The traditional GAIF Open Session returns once again. All local and visiting musicians who play instruments usually associated with Irish traditional music are invited to join in the open session. We’ve also invited members of the professional bands to join us if they wish. So who knows? We may have some famous musicians joining in.
Performers in the Cultural Building
Along with all the great bands performing on the Contemporary and Traditional Stages (including Craobh Dugan on the Traditional Stage on Sunday at noon) there's even more music to listen to in the Cultural Building. The Mighty Craic, Deirdre and Jim McCarthy, Gerry Dixon, and Donal O'Shaughnessy.
And...we have a few secret surprises planned too. We’re not saying what they are, but you will be enchanted.
So hop over to the GAIF website for the full Entertainment Schedule, the Cultural Building Schedule and to buy your advance tickets at a discount price. It’s just incredible all the fun that’s packed into that ticket price.
A fresh summer breeze plays with the heavy red drapes on the open windows behind the stage at the Oneida Community Mansion House. The curtains billow and dance behind the two musicians, Amanda Straney and Bill Fahy. They’re members of Craobh Dugan who have created an original program called Soldier’s Joy.
Amanda takes up her fiddle and Bill his banjo. Without any electronic amplification they play their first tune, Year of Jubilo. The notes fill this large room built in 1862 by members of the Oneida Community, a religious commune with an appreciation for music and art. The walls and ceiling are decorated with paintings of swirling scrolls and the acoustics amplify better than microphones and speakers could.
These tunes of the Civil War era were new when this room was new and I feel myself transported back in time 16 decades.
Between tunes and songs, Bill and Amanda tell us stories about music during the Civil War, including quotes gleaned from well over 100 hours of research into letters written by the people who lived through that time. We hear their own voices over the many years from the letters they wrote to the editors of newspapers in Rome and Utica, and personal notes they sent to friends, sweethearts, and relatives.
Some found humor in their circumstances. In the summer of 1863, one Oneida 4th soldier stationed in Virginia wrote a letter published in the Rome Sentinel that began, “With all the labor, suffering and anxiety we as soldiers have to endure, we often have our fun, and well and right heartily do we enjoy it.” He went on to relate the story of a young sentry, intent on following orders, who shot a farmer’s pig that failed to respond with the right countersign when challenged.
Some wrote heart-wrenching pleas. A member of the 117th New York Volunteers wrote a letter to the Utica Observer begging the residents of Oneida County to aid the wives and children left behind by fighting soldiers as they struggled to survive without their breadwinners. “I ask in the name of all that is good, remember our families at home are in need, in distress. The winter is at hand, or soon will be. Do something for them, for I tell you, my dear sir, on the lonely picket post, in darkest night, our thoughts go home; and oh, the agonizing thought comes to him, "oh, God! what will become of my wife and family?"
And many mentioned music and its profound effects in their letters. Before recorded music, most people learned how to play an instrument. Of course they took their skills with them when they went to war. There were more than 600 regimental bands in the Union Army, which they used for communication, movement coordination, entertainment and morale. Music was a part of the soldiers’ daily life and led to many significant moments like the night the Union and Confederate armies were camped on either side of the Rappahannock River after the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia. One band began to play Home Sweet Home and then other bands on both sides joined in. Soon men on both sides were moved to shout and cheer and one solider wrote that he thought the war may have ended there if the two sides hadn’t been separated by the river.
A member of the 97th New York captured the sounds of the battlefield when he wrote, “As I sit writing about 2 miles in front, the pickets are firing & I hear the bang bang constantly. There goes a cannon Boom. So it goes day and night. As it is toward evening brass bands are filling the air with very sweet music. At almost every head Qtrs. sometimes half a dozen are heard at once. A strange commingling of sounds, last night we could hear the singing & playing from camps …a mile away.”
We’re familiar with what the Civil War looked like thanks to the work of early photographers like Matthew Brady, but Bill and Amanda were able to bring to life the sounds of this historic period by reading the words of the people who lived it and by playing the music they listened to. It’s a vivid and touching way to connect with history and appreciate what people lived through and how they felt.
Bill and Amanda have upcoming performances of Soldier’s Joy at the Woodgate Library on July 10 and at the Earlville Library on July 17, 2019. You can also check out the Soldier's Joy Facebook page to find out about future presentations, which will, in a few months, include their new programs revealing their ongoing research into the Southern and Irish perspectives on the war.
There’s a treasure trove of Irish traditional music scattered across the internet and hidden deep in the rooms of the Library of Congress, and a researcher from Ireland is working on making it easier for us to find it and hear it. Patrick Egan (Pádraig Mac Aodhgáin) recently sent emails to Comhaltas groups in the US asking for our help. Intrigued by his project, I called him at the Library of Congress (LOC) to find out more.
Patrick, a concertina player who grew up in Co. Wicklow hearing plenty of tunes and stories at the Saturday sessions in his father’s pub, is now an ethnomusicologist and a fellow in digital studies at the Kluge Center at the LOC studying the impact of the digital turn on Irish culture in the US. Since January he’s been going through collections in the LOC’s American Folklife Center. The center’s archive was established in 1928 to document and preserve every kind of traditional culture and now contains millions of items collected from the 19th century to now - things like films of traditional arts, oral histories, and music recordings on everything from wax cylinders to CDs.
“My area looks at different ways the American Folklife Center could link with archives in order to reach out to people,” Patrick said. He plans to link his work with a similar archive in Dublin called the Irish Traditional Music Archive, where researchers are creating a state-of-the-art digital structure to allow them to link sound files and metadata.
“So for example if a musician like John Kelly was playing a tune, and he said he got that tune off someone like Willy Clancy, and maybe Willy Clancy got it from someone else, there’s a way to link up those three people so that it’s easier to find them on the internet,” he said.
The goal is to create a standardized structure to make it easy for musicians to look up performers' names or tune names, and access all versions in many archives around the world, unlike the current situation where files are scattered on YouTube and other websites.
As part of his project, Patrick needs to know how members of the Irish traditional music community are interfacing with the internet. “Do they actually use the internet a lot to access sound files and how important are sound files to them?” he said. “What do they know about what’s in the archives and what resources do they use?” He’s asking how the internet is changing the ways in which musicians work with sound files and how the world of the Irish musician is changing in Ireland, America, and other countries. “I’m looking at a broad analysis of how this is all changing in the Irish traditional music community.”
To that end, Patrick has developed a survey for Irish traditional musicians in North America. About 300 people took the survey during the first week he started circulating it by word of mouth among friends, but he’d like to have as many musicians as possible fill it out. I took the survey myself. It’s not long and I discovered some interesting resources in it. Click this link if you’d like to take the survey too.
While he’s been working in the LOC’s American Folklife Center, Patrick has found some treasures among the more than 2,000 recordings in the 12 collections he’s listened to so far. And this is just the beginning. The reference librarians have suggested 36 collections to him.
Patrick made this chart to show what he’s found.
The Philadelphia Ceili Group’s collection has been especially rich. Beginning in 1977 they hosted a festival that attracted local and internationally known Irish traditional musicians. At these festivals they made recordings of workshops, tunes, songs, and stories about the origins of the music and the musicians’ own lives.
One of Patrick’s favorite finds featured Joe Heaney singing and lilting in the sean-nos tradition, telling stories of the songs and where he got them, and stories about his hometown in Western Connemara.
“I think that these musicians in the Philadelphia Ceili Group brought a lot to Irish culture that has yet to be tapped into,” Patrick said. “There are six boxes of about 30 tapes each just packed full of gems all the way through. Things like this are just sitting in the archives, waiting for musicians such as yourself up in New York. I’m documenting what’s in the collections to let musicians know what’s in there, to bring the music from the archives to the musicians playing now in a meaningful way.”
He said there are so many recordings that it’s unlikely they will ever all be digitized, but he hopes to point to what can be done. “Fortunately the Library of Congress is committed to getting as much as possible cleared of copyright and available to the public to the benefit of the audience,” Patrick said.
In the meantime, to get an idea of the recordings of Irish American music held in archives, you can check out these websites:
Don't forget to take the Survey on Irish Traditional Music, Song and Dance in North America.
For the past few months, I've been listening to a fascinating podcast produced by Fin Dwyer, an Irish historian based in Kilkenny, Ireland. We're getting no ad fees by telling you about his show. It's just something I wanted to share because I've heard so many interesting stories on the Irish History Podcast.
Fin has that quintessentially Irish talent for storytelling, keeping you in suspense as much as possible. But he's also a skilled researcher, able to dig into a story and unearth the most in-depth facts. I've learned about a Kilkenny witch hunt in the 1300s, a strong close-knit community that survived on the Blasket Islands, and a lot about the horrors and heroes of the Great Famine.
The podcast makes it easy to carry the show around on my phone and listen to it in any room of the house as well as in the car, my favorite way to make use of driving time. No matter what kind of smartphone you have, you can get an app that will play the Irish History Podcast. And if you don't have a smartphone, you can still listen to the shows on your computer using Fin's website here.
I hope you get to hear it, and please let me know what you think of it when you do. ~Sue
On May 4, you’ll have a chance to see in concert the son of a legendary Irish musician. But this son is not just coasting on his father’s reputation.
Dónal Clancy surely inherited a talent for music from his father, Liam Clancy, one of the famed Clancy Brothers. But he has earned his own fame as a musician himself. He was a founding member of Danú and a member of Solas. He toured and recorded with Eileen Ivers and was a guest with The Chieftains on their Tears of Stone Tours in Japan and the US.
Radio host and singer/songwriter Archie Fisher said, "Dónal Clancy is a consummate Celtic guitarist with a voice sympathetic to a range of different song cultures and with a sense of musical arrangement true to the great classical Irish tradition."
Clancy released his first solo guitar album Close To Home in 2006, which The Boston Globe dubbed "a sweet masterpiece of melodic grace and riveting groove".
The Irish Post awarded his next album, Songs of a Roving Blade, five stars, calling it “folk singing at its best” and “a smashing album that should help to ensure these songs will never be lost.”
Clancy's latest album, On the Lonesome Plain, features traditional songs and two of his own compositions, A Strike for Victory commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising and an instrumental piece entitled Máirseáil na Conrach.
Reviews can help us form an idea of a musician’s sound, but there’s no substitute for hearing it yourself. So, here’s a recent recording of Dónal Clancy singing his original song The Duke’s Line:
Clancy will perform at the Rome Art and Community Center on May 4 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $15.00 in advance, $20 at the door, and $12.00 for Craobh Dugan members current in their dues. You can buy tickets on Eventbrite or from Chris Hoke at either of our sessions.
Thinking of joining the musicians at one of our sessions? Here are some helpful tips to get you started.
Do you dream of playing in an Irish session? Maybe you went to Ireland and spent some happy evenings sipping a pint and listening to a gathering of musicians playing rollicking tunes. Or maybe you’ve watched YouTube videos filmed at sessions. Or you may have caught your excitement for Irish music after hearing Craobh Dugan perform at a local festival. Either way, it sure looks like fun. So how do you get involved in one of our local sessions if you’ve never played in one before?
The first thing you’d need to do is choose your instrument. If you already have experience playing flute, guitar, or violin from your school days, you have a leg up. These are also instruments accepted at a session, though the style of playing them is different from bands or orchestras. Irish music is known for adopting instruments from many cultures, but there are some that would be frowned upon if they showed up at a session. You wouldn’t want to bring your saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, or trombone.
Generally, the instruments associated with Irish music are:
Of course, you’ll need to get familiar with your instrument by practicing at home at first. If you’re starting from scratch with a new instrument, there are lots of free videos on YouTube where you can learn the basics and get started with a few Irish tunes. Several people offer online courses for a fee. One of the best of these is The Online Academy of Irish Music where some of the best-known traditional musicians teach.
When you’re ready to build your repertoire for playing locally, check out our Tune Book. It’s 180 pages long, but you don’t have to learn them all at once. To get you started, here are a few sets we often play:
Once you can play through a tune, practice it with a recording of a group of musicians. If you’re only used to playing it alone, the first time you play it with a group at a session, you can really get thrown off. You can find recordings on YouTube or CDs, but better yet, you can visit one or more of our sessions and make your own recordings. We’ll be happy to share the titles with you.
We have two musician practice sessions each month at members’ homes, where you can get used to playing with others in a safe, welcoming environment without an audience. For this, you’ll need to officially join Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann by paying the annual dues, but that’s very inexpensive and you get lots of other perks for it too. You can find out all about that on our Membership Page.
A Few Tips for Your First Session
When you come out to a session it’s good to know that each set is made up of three tunes and each tune is played three times before going on to the next tune. If you’re just starting out and only know one or two of the tunes in a set, it’s OK to play along with just the one you know and listen to the rest.
If your chosen instrument is a bodhrán, the rule is “one at a time.” Bodhrán players take turns because everyone plays a little differently, and more than one going at once can throw the other musicians out of sync. Someone could join a bodhrán with spoons or bones, but only one of those should be playing at a time too.
Also, before you spend time memorizing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” it helps to know that older, more traditional songs are favored. If you can sing a sean-nós song in the Irish language, you’ll be a rare treasure, but there are many traditional songs in English too. The Session is a good resource for finding songs to learn and recommendations of recordings to learn them from.
Remember, you don’t have to learn everything at once. Part of the fun is enjoying the journey of learning with friends. So come out to a session, even just to listen at first. Feel free to ask questions. We love to share what we know about Irish music.
We’re looking forward to seeing you at a session soon. We have two every month, one at Nail Creek Pub in Utica every first Tuesday and the other at Stockdale's Bar and Grill in Oriskany every third Tuesday. (We recommend you double check on our calendar page in case anything has changed.)
The first woman in the world to design, build, and fly an airplane was Irish.
On an August morning in 1910 what sounded more like a large-scale catfight than an engine, revved in Randallstown, Co. Antrim in Northern Ireland. Lilian Bland gave it a little more gas and Mayfly moved forward, faster and little faster, until it lifted itself off the grassy track and rose up into the air. Giving it a few more tries that day, she grinned from ear to ear. She had done it. She would always know she was the first woman in Ireland to fly an airplane and the first woman in the world to design and build one.
Lilian was never one to hesitate when she got an idea to do something. By the time she was 32, the year she flew, she had already traveled throughout Europe, been a sports photographer and journalist, a proficient hunter and crack shot, and horse trainer and rider. Daring and unconventional as she could be for a woman at the turn of the 20th century, she walked about in breeches, smoked cigarettes, rode astride (not sidesaddle) and practiced Ju-Jitsu.
And when her uncle sent her a postcard picturing Louis Blériot’s aeroplane that had crossed the English Channel in July 1909, she looked up at the seagulls she was photographing in Scotland that day and decided what her next project would be.
When she returned to Ireland in early 1910, she started building a kite-like model biplane out of bamboo, spruce, fabric, and wire. She steamed the wood to curve it’s 6-foot wingspan like the seagull wings she had observed. It flew beautifully.
Next she built her design into a glider large enough to hold herself as pilot and added a set of bicycle handlebars to steer it. This wafted into to the air as well, but she needed to know if it could hold the weight of an engine. So she enlisted the help of four burly constables and a gardener named Joe Blain.
With all the guys hanging on to the outside of the plane, she took off, and the whole shebang lifted into the air for a few seconds, until the constables got spooked and let go. Only Joe stuck around for the rest of the ride, but it was enough to convince Lilian that adding the engine would work.
So she sent to England for a gas engine and a propeller. When she heard her order was delayed, she went to the factory in Manchester herself and brought it back by boat and train even though the gas tank was still not finished. No worries. When she got home she just cobbled one together from a whiskey bottle and her deaf aunt’s ear trumpet. This girl was just unstoppable.
After waiting for the windy rainy weather to clear and puzzling through several mechanical difficulties for weeks, finally the day arrived when she could test her creation with a real flight. The Mayfly (named after the doubters around her said it “may fly or may not”) would have its moment of glory.
With the engine situated behind her, Lilian settled into the pilot’s seat and called out to her helpful friend Joe Blain to give the propeller a spin. The engine kicked in with a roar and she was off the ground for at least a quarter mile and 30 feet high.
“I could hardly believe it. After each flight, I ran back to see where the wheel tracks left the grass to convince myself that I really had been airborne,” she said.
From Airplanes to Automobiles
It was a glorious day, but it was the last one in Lilian’s flying career. Her father’s nerves had had all they could take, and he offered to buy her a Ford Model T if only she would give up flying airplanes. As a woman of many interests and aware of the huge expense required to take her Mayfly to the next level, she accepted pretty willingly.
Cars would be her next adventure. She taught herself to drive and started a Ford dealership in Belfast, which she managed successfully for a couple of years.
A Simpler But Harder Life
In 1912 she married her cousin Charles Bland and emigrated to Western Canada where together they built a farm in a remote area with a view of a quiet sound. Of course she took her camera with her and made more than 400 photos while she lived there, recording their rustic pioneer life on the Canadian frontier.
One picture shows her true to form in overalls with an early motorized farm tractor that looks similar to a push lawnmower. The caption says it had several different attachments that could accomplish various farm tasks. She was also known for her expertise in repairing boat motors.
In 1913 their daughter Patricia was born and in 1922 their son Jackie. Lilian captured many adorable photos of them as children playing on their farm with lots of dogs, cats, cows and horses. Patsy, as they called her, took after her adventurous mom wearing pants and working and playing hard in the wilderness. The photos in a gallery here are full of fun and smiles.
Then in September 1929 tragedy struck. Patricia, Lilian’s dear daughter, best friend, and constant companion, died of a tetanus infection at the age of sixteen. The disease leads to a terribly painful end and they were not able to provide her with medical help in their remote location.
Lilian was devastated.
“A child of the woods, a born naturalist and artist, she was yet my right hand in all practical work, with the skill and energy of an old-timer, utterly unselfish, calm and brave in the face of danger. She died as bravely as she had lived, without the help that science and civilization might have given to dull the agony. Death in connection with one so full of life seemed impossible — unreal,” Lilian wrote in a letter some months later.
Even before Patricia’s death, money had become scarce for the family and life for Lilian seemed nothing but day after day of grinding work. Finally in 1935 with her marriage failing, Lilian decided to move to Kent, England, where she was born. She lived with her brother there until the 1950s when she retired to a cottage in Cornwall. She spent her days gardening until she died in 1971 at the age of 92.
In 1964 she received a letter from a firm in Dublin which must have done some research into the history of aviation in Ireland. It said, “I can at last send you photocopies of the local paper dealing with Harry Ferguson’s first flight and then yours. You will see that you were the first biplane, but he was the first aeroplane proper. At any rate you must have been the first woman in the world to build and fly an aeroplane, which isn’t so bad.”
Lilian Bland and her Mayfly are commemorated with this sculpture designed by Skelton Rainey. You can see it in Glengormley Park, located in Glengormley, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland.
From as early as the 1630s immigrants from Ireland were arriving on the shores of North America, joining the mixture of nationalities in a steady stream, and sometimes in waves, up to this very day. They brought with them a strong devotion to their native culture, appreciated their freedom to express it here in the States, and shared it generously until many colorful influences from Irish culture became part of the fabric of American and Canadian culture.
So in this month of March, designated to celebrate Irish American Heritage in the US, we’ll take a look at three aspects of American culture and how the Irish left their mark on them.
Before the American Revolution, most Irish immigrants were Protestants from Ulster, also known as Scots-Irish. They tended to settle in the Appalachian Mountains. American bluegrass, folk, country, and Western music can trace its roots back to the Celtic folk tunes they played. There are many well-known American songs that sound a lot like their Irish counterparts.
One good example is the classic Western song “The Streets of Loredo”.
Compare it to “The Unfortunate Rake” and see if you can hear the similarities.
English is a language cobbled together from several languages, and American English is especially peppered with words from other languages due to our long history of immigration. And our Irish ancestors have contributed many. Here are a few examples:
“Slew” as in “a whole slew of dancers at the céilí,” comes from the Irish word slúa which means "many."
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Irish Americans began to sort into two classes known then as the “lace curtain” Irish and the “shanty” Irish. The lace curtain group had prospered and joined the middle class, while the shanty Irish lived in poorer conditions. The word "shanty" comes from sean tí, Irish for “old house.”
And there were plenty of political rallies where people chanted catchy phrases. These reminded Irish immigrants of sluagh-ghairm, the yell of a crowd or a battle-cry. That’s why we call them “slogans” now.
Two more Irish words will likely sound familiar: clann which means "family," and gleann which means "valley."
There’s a book called How the Irish Invented Slang by David Cassidy, but I only mention it to let you know that it has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. Most experts in the Irish language consider it complete nonsense and an academic scam. So now you won’t fall for that one.
The Virginia Reel, a popular party dance throughout the 1800s, was influenced by English country dance and the Haymaker’s Jig, an Irish céilí dance. American square dancing, too, shows some aspects of Irish céilí and set dances.
But the Irish contribution to the most uniquely American dance form is probably the most significant. Tap dance originated when enslaved African people and Irish people saw each other’s dance moves in the 1800s. Somewhere along the line English clogging joined the mix. Then Vaudeville performers took this early fusion and refined the steps over time. Later, dancers took tap even further in movies and Broadway shows and it keeps evolving to this day.
Here’s an excellent 5-minute documentary, featuring some cool vintage dance footage, that traces the eclectic mix of cultures that gave us American tap dance.
If you would like to receive an article like this each month in your email inbox, along with our calendar of events for the month and other info of interest to fans of Irish culture in the Mohawk Valley, you can sign up for our email newsletter in the form below.
With St. Valentine’s Day coming up, you may be thinking of sending cards or posting a message on your social media accounts to express your love and appreciation for your dear ones. But for these tender feelings, it’s sometimes hard to come up with the right words.
That’s when we turn to the poets, and Ireland has produced many excellent ones. Here we offer you three lovely examples of Irish word-weaving with a little about the poets who wrote them.
There’s nothing quite like hearing poetry read by the poet who wrote it, especially when he has a charming Irish accent:
William Butler Yeats
You can hear the melodious voice of British actor Tom Hiddleston reading this poem here:
John Boyle O'Reilly
Some brilliant animator on YouTube made this video bringing O’Reilly’s prison photo to life to recite the poem.
You can have articles like this one delivered to your inbox each month along with our calendar of events. All you need to do is sign up in the form at the bottom of this page.
Irish Exercise for the New Year
Every year in January most of us renew our dedication to exercise with all the best intentions to keep it up all year long. And it’s no secret that some of us keep this resolution going past St. Patrick’s Day and some of us don’t get quite that far. It’s hard! And it’s even harder if your chosen exercise isn’t much fun.
This year to help you out with that, we thought we’d do an article on Irish dancing. There are three main types, each with different energy demands, but all danced to the best tunes in the world.
You’ve probably seen this type at Irish festivals and in Riverdance. It looks complicated and can be a little tricky at first, but if you keep at it you’ll soon get the hang of it. And then you’re skipping and stepping to jigs and reels, spinning and swirling in patterns with your classmates like a kaleidoscope. There are many schools of Irish dance throughout New York and a Google search should turn up one near you. Though most of their classes are geared towards kids age 4-18, some offer classes for adults.
To see some top-notch Irish step dancing performed by The Academy Irish Dance Company at the Dublin, Ohio, Irish festival, click here. Then give it a try yourself with this instructional video:
Translated to English, the name of this type of dance means “old style”. Compared to step dancing it’s looser, with your arms free to move about and the steps closer to the floor. This is more of a solo dance without the group patterns like step and céilí dance. When the opportunity arose a couple of years ago, Craobh Dugan hosted sean-nós teacher Rebecca McGowan from Boston to teach a live class in Utica. We hope to do that again in the future, but you can learn a few steps now from this video:
Céilí is an Irish word for “gathering or party”. So céilí dancing requires more people, ideally at least eight. The dancers' feet can be doing skips and side-sevens commonly seen in step dancing (which can really get your heart rate up) or simple walking works too. The fun part is learning the patterns and how all the people weave together like threads on a loom. In the video below, you can see a good example of The Seige of Ennis, one of the all-time favorite céilí dances. It looks complicated at first, but it’s easy to learn, especially with the help of Craobh Dugan’s céilí dance group.
Every Friday at 7:00pm the group meets at the Seton Center at Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Genesee Street in Utica with plans to move to the new Irish Cultural Center of the Mohawk Valley when it’s finished later this year. You can bring your own partner or find a partner at the class. You don’t need any special shoes. Sneakers or any footwear you feel comfortable walking in will do. The classes are free and open to the public. Just to make sure nothing has come up to cancel class, we do recommend you call Jim O’Rourke (315-336-5966) before heading out.
In traditional Irish music, a “set” is a group of three tunes each played three times. So this year I thought it would be fun to put together a “set” of ideas that you can add to your holiday celebrations to make them a wee bit more Irish.
Irish Christmas Recipes
Delicious aromas from the kitchen are part of everyone’s festivities, so let’s start with a “tune” of three Irish Christmas recipes. (Click the titles on each recipe below to go to the complete directions.)
Irish Plum Pudding
Here’s a recipe developed by Mairéad, author of The Irish American Mom blog. Beginning with her mom’s recipe that she fondly remembers making when she was a child in Ireland, she gives detailed directions with her own adaptations that make it easier for us to make here in the USA. Important note: if you want to make Irish Plum Pudding this year, start now. It has to ripen for at least four weeks before you eat it.
Crisp Gingerbread Biscuits
Famed Irish foodie Donal Skehan says this recipe is a “must have at Christmas”. You’ll have to do some measurement conversions on this one, which takes a little effort on Google, but it looks like it will be worth it.
Most of the recipes I searched through online looked pretty complicated (like the plum pudding above). Christmas must be a time of serious culinary endeavor in Ireland. But I was able to find this easy one for those who’d rather not spend so much time in the kitchen.
Irish Christmas Gifts
For our second "tune," let’s take care of some gift shopping. What can you wrap up for your Hibernophile friend who has everything? Here are three ideas.
A Subscription to The Online Academy of Irish Music
Some famous names in Irish music are among the teachers of these very well-done video courses. They offer monthly, six-month, and annual subscriptions. And if your loved one doesn’t play an instrument, OAIM offers courses in how to sing in the Irish traditional style.
Kilkenny Design Centre
If your gift list includes someone who’s been to Ireland and already has all the usual items like an Aran sweater, a Belleek vase, and lots of Celtic knot jewelry, you might like to check out the Kilkenny Design Centre’s online shop where you’ll find many beautiful items made by Irish artisans.
If you’d like to keep your Christmas shopping dollars in Upstate New York, you’ll find Irish-themed gifts at The Plaide Palette in Cherry Valley, Cashel House in Syracuse, and Celtic Treasures in Saratoga Springs. In the Utica area, The Olde Wicker Mill in the New Hartford Shopping Center has an Irish gift department.
Irish Christmas Music
And finally, our third "tune" actually involves music. Here are three selections to add to your holiday playlists. All of these are available on CD, digital or vinyl, new or used on Amazon.com. You may also be able to find the albums, or tunes from them, on your favorite music app like Spotify or iTunes.
An Nollaig by Eileen Ivers
Canadian fiddler Eileen Ivers is one of our all-time favorite performers, having appeared at the Great American Irish Festival a number of times. This is her take on some familiar holiday classics and traditional Irish carols.
The Clancy Brothers Christmas by The Clancy Brothers
This old classic includes many songs you’ll recognize, like Jingle Bells, and some that may be new to you, like Christmas in Carrick. But they’re all rich with the Clancy Brothers’ characteristic sound.
The Wexford Carols by Caitríona O'Leary
Caitríona, a fine singer herself, did considerable research into Irish carols and poetry from the 17th-18th centuries, then teamed up with stellar musicians Tom Jones, Rosanne Cash and Rhiannon Giddens in 2014 to produce this authentic collection of Irish Christmas music.
I hope you found something in this set of three threes that you can blend into your holiday celebration this year. If this article has made you think of some of your own special finds, please share them in the comments.
They started with Johnny Allen's Reel and the tunes rolled on from there for a very generous two and a half hours. In between sets, Jerry and Damien filled us in on the history of the music with colorful stories about musical characters back in Ireland.
Jerry explained how he uses one elbow to pump air from the bellows to fill the bag under his other elbow. Hence the name: uilleann pipes which translates to "elbow" pipes in English. He said air blown through the player's mouth would be too moist and destroy the reeds in the chanter and pipes.
Damien told us that the inside of his accordion is constructed like three harmonicas, one tuned to pitch while one of the others is slightly flat and the other slightly sharp. The bellows force air through the keys which release the notes.
At one point Damien played a tune he composed for his wife Sally. It's called Sally Gally and interestingly it's become quite a hit in Japan. A group of Japanese musicians even made a wonderful music video of the tune which you can see here.
We want to send out a huge thank you to everyone who was able to come out for this fine house concert and hope even more of you will be able to join us for future ones. Meanwhile, here's a sample of the concert and you can see two more videos on our YouTube Channel here and here.
More Photos from the House Concert
Every year in October, Craobh Dugan members gather to eat, drink, dance, play music, and be generally merry. And we manage to squeeze a meeting in there too.
Looking back over last year, we had some wonderful successes to celebrate:
And looking ahead to the coming year we have some new projects in the works.
And before adjourning the meeting and beginning the music, we took a moment to remember our dear members who passed away this year. Both Jim O'Looney and Carl Sturtevant were long-time Craobh Dugan members and served generously as chairmen of the branch.
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Our musical historical program The Irish and the Erie has taken us to many places around Central New York that we may not have seen otherwise. It’s been fun to explore some of the wonderful museums and libraries in our area and in August we found a beautiful garden that you may want to visit next time you’re anywhere near Waterville.
The Waterville Public Library is in a lovely building built in 2006, and if you walk around behind it in the summer you’ll find a garden full of flowers and benches where you can take in the view over the fields and distant forest.
There’s even an observatory near the garden where the library and the Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society host stargazing events.
We hope you get to check it out sometime.
The Craobh Dugan blog is written by Sue Romero. Questions? Corrections? Send them on to her at email@example.com